Biological Constraints in Classical Conditioning

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What are the biological constraints in Classical Conditioning? Report the procedure and results of two studies supporting your answer.

Word count: 1500 words excluding references

A biological constraint in learning theory refers to an inherited tendency to learn and create certain relationships, and it has been said that some species are much more readily than others in learning such behaviour. Therefore it involves the factors which make populations resistant to evolutionary change and the animals biological make up. In this paper I will attempt to explain the bases of the original biological approaches to learning in classical conditioning in humans and animals, make comparison between animals and the association of fears and phobias in humans. I will also discuss the principle of contiguity and premise of equipotentiality as it is said to be incompatible with data from experiments carried out within a biological framework.

Taste Aversion

“Any natural phenomenon chosen at will, may be converted into a conditional stimulus, any visual stimulus, any desired sound, any odour and the simulation of any part of the skin” Pavlov stated that any sort of event which elicits an unconditional response can become associated with the environmental events that precede it. In classical learning, animals associate one stimulus with the correct response by relating an unconditioned response to conditioned stimuli. This theory is supported by researchers such as, Brown and Jenkins, Garcia and Pavlov, and although they use different organisms in their experiments it still relies on the same principals. However, Learning theorists have abandoned the belief that any natural response could be conditioned to any neutral stimulus in any living organism. The reason for this is because species are biologically prepared to learn and create associations, especially when survival is enhanced. For instance, human’s fear of spiders and snakes, or rat’s aversion to tastes associated with nausea and illness.

Social psychologists had previously thought that humans were born on a “blank slate”, suggesting we had no built in predispositions. This implies that human emotions are conditioned responses, and behaviours were learnt due to environmental factors. (Degler,1991). Conversely, Garcia’s discovery is significant as it shows biology plays a bigger role in animal’s behaviour and further broadened our understanding of human and animal evolution in psychology. Garcia and Koelling (1966) examined two groups of rats that were given a stimulus that consisted of both taste as well as audio-visual components; it shows how the same stimuli can be differently affective in two contexts. The rats were given saccharine-flavoured water to drink whilst presented with flashing lights and a clicking noise. After drinking the water, one group of rats was injected with poison, the other group received a shock in the paws. The results showed the group of rats that were injected with poison were more aversive to the taste stimulus than to the audio-visual stimulus, and the group that was shocked were aversive to the audio visual stimulus also causing them to drink very little. In conclusion, taste was more of an effective stimulus when the aversive event was poisonous whereas audio visual was more affective when aversive event received a shock. Nevertheless it can be argued that studies are not biologically oriented in the selective aversion conditioning effect, as the rats poisoned have an aversion to taste but not to audio-visual cues. Rats that received shocks were aversive to audio-visual cues but not to taste. This biological constraint on learning represents the arbitrary juxtaposition of two learning situations, fear and poison-avoidance conditioning. (Hager, 1972)

Kimble (Mazure, 2006) states that in order for learning to occur the stimuli should take place at the same time with very short delays or learning would not occur. This...
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